Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Young Gentleman wearing a brown coat, white waistcoat and frilled shirt with jewelled pin, his lace-edged cravat tied in a bow Original gold frame, signed on obverse and dated JS/ 1792 and with an I for Indi

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of a Young Gentleman wearing a brown coat, white waistcoat and frilled shirt with jewelled pin, his lace-edged cravat tied in a bow, John Smart
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 2 ¾ inches, 70mm high
 
Provenance:
English Private Collection
During the second half of the eighteenth century the demand for portrait miniatures increased rapidly and there soon emerged a number of highly talented, yet entirely individual artists whose work ‘in little’ became just as influential in defining an era as their larger counterparts produced by the likes of Sir Thomas Lawrence. John Smart was one of the leaders of the field developing an extremely precise technique of delicate stippling, which, when built up in layers, created a very smooth finish with brushwork barely visible to the naked eye.

Smart’s portrayal of his sitters appealed to a particular market who cared not for the overt swagger and lofty appearance conquered up by his competitors such as Cosway and Engleheart. Instead his style is more restrained and meticulous with his sitter’s facial features finished with the utmost precision.

In 1784 Smart received the permission of the East India Company to practice his trade in India, where emerging colonies provided the possibility of illustrious patronage. In 1785 Smart arrived and although it was rumoured that he would travel to Calcutta, much to the concern of competitor Ozias Humphrey, Smart in fact remained in Madras where he stayed for almost a decade before returning to England.

The present work is a fine example of Smart’s India period and one of the largest to have ever appeared on the market. By 1792 Smart had consolidated his reputation as the leading portrait miniature painter in Madras and in February of that year finished two miniatures of the two sons of Tippu Sahib, the drawings of which are in the British Museum.

The sitter in the present work, although at present unknown, was most likely the son of a wealthy colonist and was perhaps taken as a likeness before the young man left India for schooling in England. He might have been a fellow passenger on the 'Dutton' (the ship in which Smart sailed to India) or he might have been on the Madras station when Smart arrived there in September of that year. The flushed features of the sitter are typical of the complexion of Smart's sitters, indicating the heat and humidity endured by new arrivals to the country.

Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.